Numbers—big numbers—were the order of the day as Amazon Web Services (AWS) CEO Andy Jassy took the stage for his 3-hour keynote address at the company’s signature AWS re:Invent cloud computing conference in Las Vegas yesterday. Even as AWS reported 46% year over year revenue growth, the number of conference attendees swelled to 53,000, reflecting the crucial role that AWS and its cloud offerings play in so many businesses today.

But while Jassy laid out the standard litany of announcements of new AWS products, features, and capabilities, he placed particular emphasis on dedicating AWS to improving the working lives of “builders”—the engineers, developers, operations specialists, IT managers, and CIOs who increasingly rely on the cloud.

The needs of the builder, Jassy said, are what drive AWS’ development efforts. In some cases, that means expanding upon what the company already does well (for example, Amazon DynamoDB On-Demand–No Capacity Planning and Pay-Per-Request Pricing), but Jassy also cited devoting more resources to technologies like machine learning (ready for the autonomous Amazon race car? See below!) and (contrary to Jassy’s previous position on the subject), blockchain management.

As usual, AWS made far too many announcements for us to cover here—you can watch the full keynote presentation below, and a full list of new products and features is available from AWS. But it’s instructive to highlight some of the ways AWS hopes to ease the toil and unleash the innovation potential of builders, especially via a new acknowledgement of the role of the hybrid cloud, better ways to work with multiple cloud services, and the increasing importance of machine learning, AI, and blockchain.

The hybrid cloud is real

Enterprises, Jassy said, know the benefits of cloud computing, but they also understand the amount of work required to migrate to the cloud. And the longer they wait, he said, “the deeper the ditch” they need to climb out of. Nevertheless, some enterprises still aren’t ready to shift 100% of their workloads to the cloud. Just as important, they want to use the same APIs, hardware, and tools to manage their cloud infrastructure as well as their on-premise data centers.

To this end, supported on stage by VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger, Jassy unveiled AWS Outposts, demonstrating a clear understanding that the hybrid cloud (a combination of the public cloud and on-premise data centers) still plays an important role in the lives of many builders.

With AWS Outposts, enterprises can use actual racks of AWS-designed infrastructure hardware to run services like Amazon EC2. Initially, enterprises will have two ways to use AWS Outposts:

  1. Building off the VMware Cloud for AWS model, AWS says the first variant allows “you to use the same VMware control plane and APIs you use to run your infrastructure.”
  2. The second variant is AWS-specific, allowing you to run on-premise native instances of the same APIs and control plane you use to run your infrastructure in the AWS cloud, but on-premise.

Either way, Jassy said, AWS will deliver the racks straight to your data center and even install them for you!

Describing AWS’ expanded relationship with VMware, Jassy said, “We continue to innovate together to let you run hybrid the way you want.”

Separating the signal from the noise

AWS re:Invent is all about showcasing how enterprises thrive in the cloud, and showing practitioners how to leverage services and infrastructure to move faster and deliver better experiences for their customers. But when they face 140 services spread across enterprise apps, migration services, security and control, infrastructure offerings, and analytics (just to name a few areas), some builders, Jassy said, don’t want to guess how to make it all work.

Enterprises often have multiple teams running multiple services in multiple locations, Jassy said, and they may need guidance putting it all together. To satisfy that need for a larger perspective, Jassy announced AWS Control Tower and AWS Security Hub.

Enterprises can use Control Tower to automate the setup of their multi-account AWS environments or Landing Zone service, and trust that it’s done in a secure and compliant way that follows AWS best practices. As enterprises create new teams and accounts, Control Tower makes it easier to make sure the additions follow the organization’s compliance policies. No more guesswork configuring multiple accounts, Jassy promised.

With AWS Security Hub, teams get a single place to aggregate and organize all of the security information across their AWS accounts. Security Hub, Jassy said, will work with any AWS security service, as well as with some third-party offerings.

The machines are learning—even the race cars

More than 10,000 AWS customers use the platform for machine learning, Jassy said. And AWS has done plenty of work to support them, he added, including adding machine learning algorithms and models to the AWS Marketplace, expanding the scope and power of AWS SageMaker, and releasing Amazon Elastic Inference, which allows you to configure the the GPU power of EC2 and SageMaker instances to reduce by up to 75% the cost of running deep learning inference.

But when it comes to reinforcement learning, a type of machine learning that relies on feedback from a machine’s trial-and-error interactions in an environment to accomplish a specific goal, Jassy delighted the crowd with the announcement of AWS DeepRacer, Amazon’s first autonomous race car (albeit it at 1/18th scale).

According to Dr. Matthew Wood, General Manager of Deep Learning and AI at AWS, who joined Jassy on stage, AWS DeepRacer was designed to give developers hands-on experience with reinforcement learning. Developers can use virtual cars and tracks in a 3D cloud-based racing simulator to teach the car through trial and error, with feedback from a “reward function.” From there, they’ll be able to deploy the trained models onto the AWS DeepRacer, where they can race in the AWS Deep Racer league, the championships of which will be held at AWS re:Invent 2019, Jassy said.

With AWS DeepRacer, AWS has abstracted away a significant amount of the complexity involved in such experiments, Wood said. He hopes this will lead to greater interest in reinforcement learning, allowing more organizations to train their software to react to changing environments, and in the process fostering faster and cheaper innovation.

The car can be pre-ordered directly from Amazon for $249; eventually it will cost $399.

AWS and blockchain? Don’t call it a bandwagon

Blockchain is one of the hottest trends in technology, and many companies have created blockchain initiatives to look good to customers and investors. But that’s not why AWS got involved, Jassy said. AWS believes that blockchain technology is the right solution, Jassy said: “We don’t build things for optics.”

AWS customers say they need, or at least are highly interested in, blockchain technologies to decentralize transaction processing, Jassy explained. Retail and supply-chain organizations, as wells as companies that heavily rely on trade and asset transfers, could use the new Amazon Managed Blockchain (built on Hyperledger Fabric and Ethereum protocols) to speed up sharing and validation transactions that could otherwise take several business days to complete. The new Amazon Quantum Ledger Database (QLDB), meanwhile, is a fast, scalable, fully managed ledger database tracking all changes in a transparent, immutable, and cryptographically verifiable with an immutable, cryptographically chained and verifiable transaction log ‎owned by a central trusted authority.

Builders want to innovate—help them do it in the cloud

“Over the last several decades, it’s been a little bit of dreary world for builders,” Jassy said. Builders don’t get jobs so they can do the same thing over and over again. That’s demoralizing, Jassy said. In fact, too many builders have been trained by their employers not to spend their time and energy trying to invent or innovate on the customer experience—because why bother?

It doesn’t have to be that way, Jassy claimed. Enterprises and companies that have adopted AWS and the cloud have seen changes in how they innovate, he said. Access to huge numbers of powerful, pre-built services and the ability to deploy code in minutes without having to build the infrastructure yourself means that, “you can get from ideas to implementation in several orders of magnitude faster than ever before,” Jassy said. “That’s a very different world. It’s totally changed the culture,” enabling and encouraging builders to think about—and create—exciting new customer experiences.

To emphasize this point, Dean Del Vecchio, Chief Information Officer & Head of Enterprise Shared Services at Guardian, joined Jassy on stage to explain how the success of the insurers’ efforts in cloud migration, paying down technical debt, and transforming legacy systems for the cloud depended on careful preparation of the $71.5 billion insurance and wealth management company’s teams and culture.

Before changing any code or infrastructure, Guardian started at ground level—literally. The company spent a year updating its buildings, Del Vecchio said, to prepare teams for working in agile methodologies. The moves sent a clear message—investing in workplace, technologies, and employees was important. Once everything was in place, Guardian migrated 200 applications to the AWS cloud in just 12 months, finally shutting down its last physical data center this month. Creating new possibilities for the staff, Del Vecchio said, was essential to embracing new technologies to improve its customer experience.

Isaac Eldridge is a technical content editor at New Relic. View posts by .

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